Empress Dowager Cixi
first and only Qing Empress to rule
Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后, Cíxǐ Tàihòu, 1835 –1908), popularly known in China as the West Dowager Empress. She was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, ruling over China for 47 years. Coming from an ordinary Manchu family and having been selected by Xianfeng (咸丰, Xiánfēng, 1831-1861) Emperor as a concubine, she exercised almost total control over the court under the nominal rule of her son the Tongzhi (同治, Tóngzhì, 1856-1874) Emperor and her nephew the Guangxu Emperor (光绪, Guāngxù, 1871-1908), both of whom attempted to rule unsuccessfully in their own right.

In breaking with tradition, Cixi became the first and only Qing Dynasty Empress to rule from "behind the curtains". She used her power to accumulate vast quantities of money, bullion, antiques and jewelry, using the revenues of the state as her own. The lavish palaces, gardens and lakes built by Cixi were hugely extravagant at a time when China was facing bankruptcy. Many historians considered her reign despotism, and attribute the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and therefore Imperial China, as a result of Cixi's rule.
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